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Lawsuit aimed at halting L.A. Zoo's construction of Pachyderm Forest exhibit can proceed, appeals court rules


There's a new development in the long and passionate struggle between animal lovers over the fate of the Los Angeles Zoo's Pachyderm Forest exhibit, as a three-judge panel of California's 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday to allow a lawsuit accusing the zoo of abusing elephants to go to trial. 

Attorney David Casselman, a longtime animal advocate who is also chairman of the board of an organization called Elephants in Crisis, filed the suit in 2007 on behalf of actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider.  But in short order, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled against them, saying the issues raised in the suit were political and not for a court to decide, our colleague Carla Hall reported on our sister blog L.A. Now.

Culp, the former star of the television series "I Spy," and Leider filed the suit under California's taxpayer waste statute, arguing that the Pachyderm Forest is a waste of money in light of what they call the zoo's abuse of elephants. They hope to halt construction of the $42-million exhibit, which has already faced intense opposition from those who say that the zoo's sole elephant, Billy, should be moved to a sanctuary rather than completing the expensive project. (The zoo has said it plans to eventually bring in additional elephants to live there with Billy after construction on the Pachyderm Forest is complete. But no firm timetable has emerged for the addition of other elephants, which are extremely social creatures. Billy's perceived loneliness is a major issue raised by opponents of the exhibit.) Construction has already been put on hold once, with the Los Angeles City Council voting in January to continue it.

"It's a great day for the elephants," Casselman said after the Appeals Court decision to allow the lawsuit to continue.  "Billy will finally get his day in court." 

Other opponents of the Pachyderm Forest have also cheered the decision. One prominent voice who's staunchly opposed to keeping Billy at the zoo, Catherine Doyle of the group In Defense of Animals, expressed happiness not just for the solitary elephant but also for taxpayers. "It's wrong to waste precious city resources on an inadequate elephant exhibit that the city can't afford and in which elephants will continue to suffer and die prematurely," Doyle said today.

In July, Doyle's group made public the details of a $3,281 fine paid by the zoo in 2008 as a result of a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation into the deaths of Gita, an Asian elephant, and a chimpanzee named Judeo, both of which occurred in 2006.  Following the revelation, L.A. Zoo spokesperson Jason Jacobs said that, although the zoo had agreed to pay the fine, it had not admitted to violations specified by the USDA in its report.

Activists rally for the L.A. Zoo's Pachyderm Forest; Bob Barker donates to the opposition
Jack Hanna announces his support for the L.A. Zoo's controversial elephant exhibit
Conservationist Daphne Sheldrick: Billy the elephant belongs in a sanctuary

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Billy in his current enclosure at the L.A. Zoo.  Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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Here, here Casselman and Culp! After listening to copious evidence that the proposed Pachyderm Forest exhibit is outdated before it's even built and that elephants would continue to suffer and die in severe confinement in the exhibit, the LA City Council, in all of its questionable wisdom, voted to continue building the exhibit. Only 4 councilmembers had the character and vision to vote to stop it. Evidence that the Council should have had in its consideration was deliberately withheld by both zoo and city employees. Hopefully now that this lawsuit can go forward, the lid will literaly be blown off this uncozy collusional relationship between some city officials and the local zoo. Billy needs to go to PAWSArk2000 Sanctuary which is his only change to have a more normal elephant life and lifespan. His continued and obvious suffering must be ended and soon.

What an exquisite waste of time, energy and resources. As a tax payer I resent the constant interruptions of this wonderful project. And let's not forget how many jobs would be lost with the cessation of the Pachyderm Forest.

Culp is a fading actor looking for publicity. This issue has been exhaustively debated already. Why put zoo staff through another legal challenge, based on decades-old accusations that have been found by the L.A. City Council to be unfounded? If Culp wants what's best for Billy, he should get his ego out of the way and let the zoo finish building their new multi-million dollar habitat, which will be BIGGER THAN THE SAN DIEGO ZOO's NEW ELEPHANT ODYSSEY!

It is always about humans, that's what is wrong with this planet.

It might be considered a wonderful project for people but not for elephants. Same old story; we have animals here helping people instead of people helping animals as it should be! So yes it would create new jobs and bring in cash from entrance fees etc...but elephants still would not have enough room to roam. It is time to close out exhibits of elephants in zoos and send them to sanctuaries instead. Let's stop exploiting these beautiful creatures and have a heart and not just eyes watching dollar signs benefiting humans.

Yah, okay thanks Jeanine. You can now report to the LA Zoo personnel office and pick up your bonus check. If you were really a concerned taxpayer, you would be outraged that $42 million is being spent on this "elephant mortuary".

With all the money spent on this issue, why don’t Culp and Co., put their money where their mouth is? Why don’t they support elephant conservation? Why don’t they go learn about what these species come across in the wild and why their numbers are dropping, and address those issues instead? With all the attention they’re trying to get, they could be helping educate the public on game hunting, habitat loss and encroachment. Instead of looking at the big picture, they are focusing on single individual and in turn potentially turning away educational opportunities for our future generations.

PS. Billy would have been other elephants by now, if it hadn’t been for these stupid waste-of-time-and-money lawsuits. In doing this, Culp and Co. are the ones who are inevitably hurting Billy the most.

How many elephant deaths will it take for the public to demand elephants be retired to sanctuaries and for breeding to end? Zoos are too small and deny everything that is instinctual to these migratory, social, and highly intelligent individuals. The zoo environment is killing elephants prematurely just as poachers and loss of habitat are doing in the wild. It is the same crime: shortening the elephant lifespan by decades. Enough of our selfish need to be entertained by seeing an elephant on exhibit! Conservation should take place in the wild, and with all the awe-inspiring shows about elephants, children can learn about them without their suffering.

I agree that elephants should not be kept in zoos which benefits humans and not the animals themselves. If they die in the wild they have their companions, they can pick leaves from trees as they roam around which is their natural activity. So even if they do die young there, they've had a life. There is a sanctuary and a generous donor who has offered to pay for transportation. Let's free Billy!

One thing that I'm sure of; no animal on earth was put here for our entertainment or profit, and the sooner we, as assumingly educated people, figure this out, the better off this world will be.

In a class all of it's own, there is the elephant...so smart, so sensitive, so social and so miscast as a creature who might be at home in a zoo or circus. We do not have the right to take them out of their environment...ever. Maybe soon the day will come and the decision will be made to do the right thing and let Billy, and hopefully other elephants imprisoned for our pleasure, live out their lives in a sanctuary, which care for the sick, elderly, abused and unwanted elephants, that are no longer profitable or able.

I think everyone on both sides of the fence, loves Elephants. However, if we love Elephants, I believe it's our duty to REALLY research what these amazing animals need. I for one, have looked into what this animal needs to really live a full and healthy life. When I say healthy, the entails psychologically and emotionally as well. I urge All people who say they love these animals and who are protesting, doing away with ALL elephants in zoos, to do the research. You will, for a fact find that these animals cannot even remotely get their needs met to the fullest in a zoo. I do believe that a zoo aspires to provide all animals with what they need to thrive but they continously fail do to so when it comes to elephants. That is why so many zoos have elected to close down their elephant exhibits and focus on improving the quality of life for other animals in their zoos. I know the millions of dollars being spent on the exhibit cannot be redirected to the many areas such as eduction, unemployment etc.. that our city needs but it can be redirected to help improve the zoo in general.. It would be my wish that they stop this elephant exhibit, which is a total waste of money if they are trying to do what is best for elephants and redirect this money to better the conditions for the remaining animals. Again, I urge whoever loves these amazing animals to just to the research and discover that loving these animals is not enough. We must protect them and provide them with what is best for them.. And that means sending them to a place where they can flourish and live out the remainder of their lives in peace.. No longer the entertainer but rather an elephant. Just as people pay a lot of money to go to Disneyland, why can't they go out of their way to go see these living creatures as well. Why must we feel that it is our entitlement to keep them within our reach, when they are suffering. And by the way.. When Ruby was at the LA zoo she was in solitary confinement for approximately two years, because of her behavior. At Paws, she is wondering free and is not a problem elephant but rather just an elephant who has made connections with other elephants and who is considered a peaceful animal. Why? Because her needs are being met. She has hundreds of acres with dirt and trees and water holes and friends. No bull hooks.. Really, the zoo still uses bull hooks. I hope with all my heart that this situation will be a WIN for the Elephants.

At a time like this when all city agencies must tighten their belts to ensure that services continue to function - working above and beyond to do so - we have a group that has decided to berate one such city agency through political and legal pressure and are "express[ing] happiness" about it.

I don't get it.

Every single day, the zoo and its staff focus on one thing - caring for animals. Caring for animals in the zoo. Caring for animals from other institutions in need of refuge. Caring for animals in the wild through conservation efforts. That's their job - one for which they don't get half the credit they deserve.

Yet, this group stands on the outside looking in, demanding the zoo follow its agenda. I seriously question to what end they hope this most recent course of action will take them and what they hope to achieve by dragging the zoo into court.

Like I said, I just don't get it.

With great respect for all who love children and animals, after much personal reflection I still do not think that the proposed/ ongoing Elephant Compound at the LAZoo is enough space for this large creature. The fact that 13 elephants have died 'before their time' should tell us something if we choose to truely listen. This space may be charming and bewitching to children and adults who view these creatures without knowledge of these creatures natural needs and requirements, these animals do NOT have ENOUGH space to thrive! But build it they will and we taxpayers will watch will much interest and dread news that elephants will still 'fail to thrive'!

It's high time people started thinking a little less of themselves and a little more of other species. Animals were not put on earth to entertain us. Animals as large as elephants need much more than zoos can provide, principally in terms of room to roam. Stuffing as many as 11 elephants in a 3 -4 acre enclosure is hardly conducive to their welfare. When zoos claim to "love" their animals, what they mean is they love the income they provide.

Humans, humans, humans...it's all about the humans. Let's spend FORTY TWO MILLION DOLLARS on a project that will do nothing but ultimately shorten this elephant's life because it's so important for future generations (of humans, of course) to see an elephant who's suffering...why this is important, I'm not quite sure. I wonder how parents who support this exhibit would like it if their kids were forcibly taken from them for the visual pleasure of the "future generations" of another species. You want to help future generations of humans in LA? Then put that kind of money to good use in places like South Central where the financial cuts to education are astounding and won't be counterbalanced by checking out a depressed Asian elephant. And please stop whining about the exquisite care that these animals receive from zoo caretakers...elephant experts indicate that wild animals tend to fare better in the wild (shocking, I know)...not in captivity, where they're captives. Yeah, I went to the zoo as a kid. And even then I found the entire concept of putting wild animals behind bars so humans could get some kicks as disturbing and bizarre. I truly hope that this case will finally wind up on the bench of a judge with at least a grain of sense so that this issue will be shut down once and for all, Billy will finally get sent to a sanctuary and all the zoo supporters will just shut up and maybe spend a day in one of the cages in the zoo to see how educational and wonderful and important zoos are from the other side. Can we please get over this idea of how we are somehow lords of the earth and think beyond ourselves?

Funding an exhibit like this with taxpayer money is no different from subsidizing the circus or funding a horse race. The "Pacyhderm Forest" is a display to entertain humans, and yes, will be outdated before it is built. Let Billy go to live at the wonderful PAWS sanctuary, which has started building a wonderful habitat for bull elephnts, and forget this ill-conceived plan.

I cannot see the waste of a Pachyderm Forest - these magnificent animals need to walk 50-60 Miles a day in herds. Once they add other Elephants there is not enough adequate space for just the one. Elephants die at the zoo prematurely and suffer chronic foot infections from cement. The Zoo was offered to do a robotic exhibit from a Professor at UCLA. She was willing to help and this was not good enough for the money hungry zoo and those backing the City.

A zoo is not a life. This whole issue is about the elephant not humans. We are on this earth to take care and protect animals.Billy the elephant is just another sad story of greed and politics. We must do the right thing and allow him to go to a sanctuary with other elephants and live his life out.It is the humane thing to do.Let't give Billy the life he deserves.

This issue is not about caring zoo keepers, who already have their hands more than full and are probably going to bear even more work due to the city's financial problems.

The argument over keeping elephants in zoos is based on the fact, backed by science, that elephants are not thriving in zoos because of conditions that do not meet their physical, social and psychological needs.

Adding another couple of small yards at L.A. Zoo is not going to significantly change conditions and elephants will continue to suffer there.

So the question becomes: Are you willing to sacrifice these highly intelligent and sensitive animals, whose lives are significantly shortened in zoos (usually following years of painful captivity-caused foot and joint diseases), just so people can see them? I have a hard time understanding how this is an acceptable way to "save" elephants in the wild.

There is no evidence to show that people who see elephants in zoos take action to contribute to the conservation of elephants. And you don't need to display elephants in zoos to raise money for conservation. Idaho's Zoo Boise, which does NOT display elephants, is raising significant funds for elephant conservation. A percentage of zoo admissions goes into a conservation fund.

It's time to admit that keeping elephants in zoos, where they suffer and die prematurely, is not the answer to "saving" elephants.

Had our City Council fully understood that earlier this year, there would be no lawsuit and many animals now languishing in terribly outdated exhibits at the L.A. Zoo would have a chance at living in more humane conditions.

I could take every child in Los Angeles County to the Performing Animal Welfare Society to watch elephants roaming, foraging, playing together, and swimming in lakes, and barely make a dent in the $42 million being spent on this project. The supporters' intentions are noble -- they want to save Asian elephants with a breeding program -- but 2.4 acres is not adequate to house one healthy elephant, let alone a breeding herd. If the desire is to provide jobs during the recession, the funds would be better applied to upgrading and expanding other exhibits, not wasted on a project that cannot succeed.

As for Billy, the Zoo has already kept him isolated from his kind since Gita's death several years ago. For an intelligent animal with a complex family structure and social needs, that constitutes abuse.

If Billy can't get to a sanctuary soon, he will probably die. He is in a constant state of musth which means he is constantly agitated and high levels of testosterone are coursing through his bloodstream. His cardio-vascular system and other systems will be compromised if this continues. This insanity of building an exhibit that won't improve his quality of life one bit must be stopped. Maybe this lawsuit is Robert Culp's way of saying "I Spy" a bunch of jerks are running the LA Zoo...and there are more than a few on the LA City Council too!

This exhibit is all about getting new baby elephants to the zoo, they are the real moneymakers. Its just a bit larger prison for new inmates. The idea of 11 elephants in such a small space is freakin ridiculous. Use this money to help the present inmates, zoos are a thing of the past people. Wake up, animals were not put here to entertain and serve us. How many more must die?????

THIs is not a taxpayer issue, the monies MUST be used at the zoo. HOw about more educational programs? How about teaching children that animals have feelings and thoughts and emotions just like we do, they dont like being alone without family and friends. Dog fighting is not fun or glamorous.. THese are the messages we need to be sending..not looking for ways to imprison more innocent animals

This should not even be about people's jobs it's about what is best for the elephants. Elephants will never be living as elephants as long as they are making money for people and Zoos make lots of money off the animals they confine to cages. Send the elephants to TES or PAWS where they will live like an elephant should or as close to that as possible in this country, roaming free. Must we destroy everything we touch?!

To those zoo lovers who think that this law suit is keeping Billy from enjoying the new elephant exhibit: you know very little about bull elephants! Even if the exhibit were already finished, Billy would still be kept separate from the female elephants and his bull-proof space would remain extremely confined. In the wild, adult bull elephants never live with the herd. The zoo is just holding on to Billy cause they want his "donated" sperm for the yet-to-be-acquired females. And what LA really needs now is the cost of breeding a herd of elephants!

Why is the LA Zoo hiding from the public the facts if Gita's death and the long history of suffering and "bizarre", untimely and gruesome deaths that have occured in it's Elephant population? Why is the LA ZOO not coming clean about it's record. How can we trust them to care for their animals and give them huge amounts of money nobody has.

Thank goodness this vital issue has been given a new opportunity to raise the awareness of the waste of money and ill treament taking place at the LA Zoo. Support for the elephants alone is critical but this huge amount of money that could and should be put to much better use is disgraceful. Shame on the zoo. How greedy and inhumane can you get...

A waste of money to build a state of the art exhibit rich with choices and space for the elephants?
This money, if you check your facts, has been set aside for
this project which was approved by the public, who are the real "owners" of this city zoo.
So let's sue the Zoo and have them spend yet more money and
time defending themselves for the same old tired, groundless issues that have already been debated to death?

Robert Culp should be made to re-imburse the City for the
waste of tax payers dollars for court hearings, city attorneys, zoo staff time, etc etc etc.
The judges who are entertaining this issue that was settled
some time ago should be voted out of the court system.

Billy is in great health and is already enjoying one area of the new exhibit. But the protestors don't want to hear that.They think they are animal experts. Katherine Doyle needs a new hobby, maybe she has time to gain an education in real elephant care.

Shame on celebrities with no first hand knowledge, lending their names to this stupidity once again.
Bob Barker should open spay and neuter clinics instead of just saying "remember, spay and neuter your pets". Put your money where your mouth is Bob. And for that matter recruit Robert Culp and colaborate on a project with merit.

The real goal of these protestors is to close zoo's. After the elephants, which species do they go after next?

Does anyone else ever wonder why elephants in captivity don't just crush their attendants, abusive or well-meaning, except in the most extreme, they-just-can't-take-it-anymore circumstances? Maybe because they respect life and have hope the size of their beings that others will come to share that attitude and allow them the life that they were meant to lead. A life that does not include zoos or circuses. Let's let Billy's patience and hope pay off for him and send him to the sanctuary. Let's work to fix the mistake of keeping elephants in inadequate, harmful facilities one elephant at a time -- starting now.

If the zoo was planning the exhibit with space like that which is offered at a sanctuary then fine but they aren't! Where is the compassion for all living things. Obviously some people weren't taught to respect life and think only of themselves. To those of you that are only concerned for yourselves, Karma...it's a wonderful thing!

It's such a shame that Robert Culp, Cher, and all of these other pretend animal-lovers from Hollywood cannot mind their own business. The truth is that all of these lawsuits and other delaying tactics are what is hurting Billy! Once the magnificent Pachyderm Forest is complete, then Billy and his new companions will live a long and happy life in this new elephant resort.

As for the "sanctuary", the testimony at the January LA City Council meeting revealed quite clearly that this is NOT a good place for Billy! Culp and his friends are deceived by the nice SOUND of the word "sanctuary". It is not what it sounds like! The best place for Billy is the Pachyderm Forest, where real keepers can care for him on a daily basis.

Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America's Best Zoos

Well, Allen Nyhuis, roving zoo apologist, we must have been at different LA City Council meetings. I think it was made very clear that Billy's only chance was to get to the PAWS Ark2000 Sanctuary, that he would continue to suffer and deteriorate both physically and psychologically at the LA Zoo. Expert after expert gave opinions and evidence based on decades of studies that have revealed elephants don't thrive in zoos. That is why Councilmember Tony Cardenas came to the conclusion that the new Pachyderm Forest exhibit would be a $42 million "elephant mortuary" and that "elephants don't live in zoos, they die in zoos."

The sanctuaries being touted here are not close to being professional in either the care given to the animals entrusted to them or their means of aquiring such animals. THey are run by untrained people whose only agenda is to garner donations to support their ventures which by the way provide them with a tidy income and in both cases a place to live? Does anyone really think they are putting the animals first? Don't you wonder why an elephant died at PAWS that they were treating with cranberry juice? Or perhaps why an elephant at TES was allowed to lie on its side for over a week dying inch by inch? What kind of suffering did that animal endure during that period - was that a humane way to die? What about the elephant at TES who killed a keeper? Sanctuaries are not all they claim to be, nor do they share full information regarding what is actually going on with the animals entrusted to them. Neither of these sanctuaries is accredited by the new association of sanctuaries, can they actually meet the new standards of this association?

Hopefully Casselman and Culp will waste a ton of money on this case and then be required to pay the court costs for the taxpayers - what a huge waste of time and energy.

Daphne, the founders of both accredited sanctuaries receive paltry salaries compared to the zoo directors around the country who make in the six-figures. In addition, the elephants you mentioned who died at both sanctuaires, died from captivity-related diseases which they developed from living in the severe confinement in zoos and circuses. The elephant who killed the caregiver at TES was driven insane in an AZA accredited zoo in Wisconsin and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by animal behavior experts and vets. So the real cause of that caregiver's death was the brutal, abusive legacy of zoo/circus elephant management. And compared to the routine cover-ups that zoos engage in to keep the awful truth away from the public about their elephants' welfare, the sanctuaries are amazingly open in sharing information. And while performing mea culpas for the ridiculous lies you have just told about both organizations, you should think about the death that Gita suffered at the LA Zoo three years ago. Collapsing on a concrete floor and being left there unattended for 17 hours even after being noticed in a down position. Oh, yes, and the 14 other elephants who have died at the LA Zoo since the 1970's.


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